Butte-Silver Bow commissioners took a first step Thursday toward better educating themselves about the major environmental issues facing Butte.
Five commissioners - Dan Foley, Brendan McDonough, John Sorich, Jim Fisher and Bud Walker - toured the Berkeley Pit, the Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant and the Montana Resources’ Yankee Doodle tailings pond dam.
Millions of dollars are at play in environmental cleanup sites scattered across a wide swath of Butte. The tour is part of a larger effort to make the commissioners aware of the environmental issues facing the city.
“There are years, decades more work. Obviously a lot more work needs to be done – the obvious physical scars and complicated problems of (contaminated) surface water and underground water,” said McDonough, District 8 commissioner. "The quicker we address the cleanup, the better off the city is to improve the community and grow the economy.”
The tour and two to come next week were scheduled after Dan Foley, District 9 commissioner, asked the council to tour Butte’s Superfund sites.
Steve Walsh, senior vice president of operations and project coordinator for Superfund cleanup for Montana Resources, guided Thursday's tour. Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Environmental Quality also came along, as well as members of the news media.
Walsh explained the critical water level and monitoring of the water level in the Berkeley Pit, walked tour participants though the water treatment plant, and explained the process for ensuring tailings in the Yankee Doodle tailings pond don’t blow away.
“I’m amazed by how vast the scope of it is,” McDonough said. “You almost have to be a chemistry major to understand what half of it means.”
McDonough said there needs to be a greater sense of urgency to treat the water in the Berkeley Pit, instead of waiting to begin the ramping up process in 2019 – four years before the water is estimated to reach critical water level.
Two more tours of Superfund sites in the Butte area are planned next week.
Residents may join a free tour, but due to limited space, advance reservations are required and are on a first-come, first-served basis.
Monday, Oct. 27, tour participants will meet at the Harrison Avenue Bus Transfer Station at 3:30 p.m. for a restoration tour of Silver Bow Creek from Texas Avenue to its confluence with Blacktail Creek near Montana Street. Pat Cunneen from the Montana Natural Resource Damages Program will lead the tour along with staff from the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology. Public seating for this tour is limited to 10 seats.
Tuesday, Oct. 28, tours participants will again convene at the Bus Transfer Station at 3:30 p.m. for a tour of the Montana Pole Superfund site and storm water projects led by Lisa DeWitt from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Butte-Silver Bow staff. Public seating for this tour is also limited to 10 seats.
All tours are expected to last about two hours. To make a reservation, send a request to city-county Public Information Administrator Justin Ringsak at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 406-497-6452.